Concerns in Athens over NATO-Turkey rift


Increasingly strained ties between NATO and Turkey over Ankara’s determination to proceed with the purchase of a Russian S-400 air defense missile system has become a fresh source of concern in Athens.

Greece is already troubled by threats in Europe to cease negotiations with Turkey for membership into the European Union, as such a development could undermine Athens’s strategy to hinge accession talks to developments in Greek-Turkish ties.

Given the political instability that has gripped the neighboring country since the botched coup 14 months ago and incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara since, Greece has pursued a decidedly more moderate stance, as evidenced in speeches at the Thessaloniki International Fair by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

Tsipras said on Sunday said that it would be a “mistake” on the part of the EU to end accession talks with Ankara, even if they have stalled, as Turkey is a strong regional power.

He also also ascribed the EU’s tough stance to political factors within the continent such as the forthcoming German elections. He added, however, that Turkish provocations were not helping matters. His comments received positive reviews in Turkish media like Hurriyet and Sabah.

NATO’s opposition to Ankara’s planned procurement of the Russian air defense system was indicated earlier this summer by US Congress’s decision to reject the sale of semi-automatic handguns to Turkish police. Berlin also responded Tuesday, putting on hold all arms exports to Turkey, citing a deterioration in Ankara’s human rights record.

“We have put on hold all big requests [for arms exports] that Turkey has sent to us, and these are really not a few,” German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted by Reuters as saying Tuesday.

But Turkey appeared unfazed, announcing on the same day that it has made a downpayment for the Russian defense system.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are determined to honor their agreement, telling Turkish newspaper Hurriyet that Turkey decides on how it will defend itself, referring to the pressure from western countries.